This is a straight-forward summary of the plot, but the first uniqueness of the film is in the way it tells its story. It starts at the end, with Kane's death. A newsreel is used to summarize his life and background information to the reporters (and we, the audience). One reporter (William Alland) is assigned to find out why Kane's last word was "Rosebud." The rest of the story is told through flashbacks via interviews or diary postings. This means that the story isn't told linearly or chronologically, and that sometimes the same scenes are told from two different points of view. That means that you have to engage with the film to actively pay attention; you just can't sit back and let the story flow over you. Because Welles and his Mercury Theater Company came from radio, it's a different sensibility.
|see Kane in the reflection in the window? technically brilliant!|
And what scenes! There are several that are classics because of how they are staged, or filmed, or lighted. When the reporter goes to read the diaries of Mr. Thatcher, the light hits the table in the reading room in such a way as to keep everything else (including the truth?) in shadow. In fact, throughout the film the lighting and staging is such that the reporters, representing us, are almost always literally in the dark. When Kane as a boy is being dispersed to New York, the scene in his parents' lodge has everybody in the scene in tight focus: not just the figures in the foreground, but Charles, who is outside playing in the snow, as well. When Kane is confronted by his political opponent the Governor, their scene is filmed from below, symbolizing their fall into purgatory or worse? The patterns on the wall an of the staircase also help symbolize his ranting.
|scene filmed with everyone in extreme focus|
|Kane making his editorial oath with Leland|
Technically, Citizen Kane is a masterpiece because of how it is structured and because it has numerous classically staged scenes. However, much like the man Charles Foster Kane himself, the film is at heart, disappointing. Was it better than How Green Was My Valley, the film the Academy chose as Best Picture of 1941? Hell, yes. Is it the best film ever made? Maybe. The most I'm willing to concede is that it is probably the best-made US film.
|"I would have liked to have thanked the Academy...."|
Best Picture, Best Director (Orson Welles), Best Actor (Orson Welles), Best Score (Drama), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Editing. As a director Welles was beaten by John Ford (How Green Was My Valley) and as an actor Welles was beaten by Gary Cooper in Sgt. York. The film won only one award: Best Screenplay, which Welles shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz.
This trailer from 1940 is obviously written for the radio actors....it's fun and unique, and made mostly independently from the film, as most of the scenes shown here are not in the movie!